On Sunday MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry ran a segment that has landed her, her employer, and her guests in a lot of trouble. It involved a panel of comedians commenting on photos of the year, and things went off the rails when a picture of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his extended family appeared on-screen. Mr. Romney was holding on his knee his latest grandchild, Kieran Romney, who is adopted and African-American.
This apparently incongruous sight got everybody on-screen chuckling right away.
“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same,” sang out one of Ms. Harris-Perry’s guests, actress Pia Glenn.
Harris-Perry herself said she would like to see the “gorgeous” Romney child and North West, daughter of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, get married some day.
“Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?” she said.
The capper was provided by comedian Dean Obeidallah. “It sums up the diversity of the Republican Party and the [Republican National Committee], where they have the whole convention and they find the one black person,” he said.
OKaaaay. Here’s the problem with all that: The use of a public figure’s child to make a political point, especially an infant child, is in pretty bad taste. You don’t hear too many jokes about Malia and Sasha Obama, do you? Yes, Bill Maher has joked about Sarah Palin’s youngest son Trig, who is developmentally disabled, but he got ripped up pretty good afterward. The women on “The View” even had a segment on that joke and nobody really defended him.
Plus, the polarization of the media means somebody is always watching who is not inclined to cut you any slack. Plus, they’ll make sure their objections go viral among like-minded media figures. So the Harris-Perry story, picked up by conservative blogger Caleb Howe, has quickly become a cause célèbre on the right.
“He’s not a child adopted by loving parents prepared to provide him with a better life in keeping with the family’s values,” Mr. Howe wrote of the Romney grandchild controversy. “Nope. He’s just a token. A punchline, not a person.”
Sarah Palin was more pointed on her Facebook page.
“Holy unbelievable. The hypocritical leftist lamestream media should be shamed by every caring, child-loving American,” she wrote.
With the understandable umbrage flowing like money in the Pentagon, Harris-Perry quickly apologized via a series of tweets Tuesday morning, adding an #MHPapology hashtag.
A hashtag? Really? Some felt that added a touch of self-promotion to an apology that otherwise sounded sincere.
In any case, conservatives were aiming a bit higher on the MSNBC food chain. The segment was pre-planned. Who thought this was a good idea?
“And once again, one has to demand answers from MSNBC’s editors and producers. Clearly, this wasn’t an off-the-cuff segment.... This is the best MSNBC can do with its time?” wrote Ed Morrissey at the right-leaning "Hot Air" site.
As for Harris-Perry’s guests, they have been less contrite. Pia Glenn apologized to families with adoptive children but defended herself vociferously against charges that her sing-song comment was racist.
Dean Obeidallah, meanwhile, apologized to the baby if the baby was offended, then went on the offensive, bringing up everything from "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson’s recent crude antigay remarks to Rush Limbaugh labeling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” as evidence that the right is just as insensitive.
“I’ll apologize to the Romneys but not the wing nuts,” Mr. Obeidallah writes in a Daily Beast column Tuesday titled “Confessions of a Romney Baby Bully.”
New Year’s prediction: This controversy will continue until the next Twitter-fueled fight over incendiary US political language, which could be happening even as you read this. If not sooner.